Last week Chad Ochocinco, professional football wide receiver of the Cincinnati Bengals, posted on his Twitter account, "@SportsCenter since you guys are showing all my tweets on TV, show this one F*#% YOU." Go get 'em, Chad. Not surprisingly, Ochocinco's harsh tweet wasn't an anomaly among athletes. Instead, such unpolished remarks via Twitter have become commonplace in sports.
Take Larry Johnson, once upon a time star running back of the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson was suspended from play by his team after calling a fan a derogatory name via Twitter. Only 75 yards away from becoming the Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher, Kansas City fans filed a petition to have Johnson cut from the team. He was subsequently released, and now, a year later, he's out of the league.
And then there's Will Hill, star football safety at the University of Florida, soon to be NFL player. Hill's Twitter feed chronicles his massages, locations of defecation, drug habits and sexual adventures.
What Ochocinco, Johnson and Hill are doing is what many athletes profess to be a positive development in sports media – cutting out the middleman. No longer do athletes have to worry about the media misquoting them, correcting their grammar or taming their outlandish remarks. They can just pull out their iPhones and tell us like it is.
The reality is that athletes have generally benefited from their traditional portrayal by the media. Writers usually abstain from incorporating the profanity slung from athletes' mouths in their articles. They often take seemingly incoherent player interviews and synthesize relevant messages and themes. They construct decipherable information from nonsensical chaos.
But it would be naive to commend the sports media. Rather, the media serves as an enabler. It has legitimized Twitter as a news source – what may have once been a nice paraphrase taken from a quote has morphed into a directly quoted tweet. The other day I was reading through an informative article about Terrence Williams being traded between NBA teams when my eyes struck his jarring tweet, "Welcome welcome, to all my jersey fans an people it's been real I love y'all an thanks, to HOUSTON what uppppp 'go Rockets' lol." I struggled to take the rest of the article seriously.
So is quoting Twitter really a bad thing? One could argue that Twitter has made it, passing the threshold of legitimacy. After all, wasn't it just a little while ago that we read about Iranians fighting an oppressive regime and telling the world via Twitter? Didn’t those quoted tweets help us become well-informed citizens with a human connection to the protesters?
What's happening in the sports world is that usual non-news-worthy information is being hyped up and overanalyzed to an unprecedented extent. Earlier this month Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, tweeted, "hang in there." In years past such a mundane reference to the Mavs’ losing streak wouldn’t have evoked a reaction from the media. But presented through Twitter, the media becomes abuzz. The three-word tweet warranted its own ESPN article.
A writer broke it down for us: “Clearly [Cuban]was sensing uneasiness coming from the team's fans as the Mavs have fallen on hard times following key injuries.”
ESPN is playing enabler again as it tracks ongoing Twitter battles among NFL players. In one pissy fight over the current financial state of the NFL, the New York Jets' Antonio Cromartie, via Twitter, threatened, "I will bash ur face" to the Seattle Seahawks’ Matt Hasselbeck, with whom he had a petty disagreement.
Another skirmish has been chronicled by over a dozen ESPN articles in which the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, through just two tweets, accused the Bears' Jay Cutler of being a wimp. Jones-Drew: "All I'm saying is that he [Cutler] can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one..." ESPN: publish! Hype! Publish again! Hype some more!
So let's recap. We've got athletes making poor judgment calls by using and abusing Twitter. Then we've got the news-happy media amplifying said abuses. These two forces are combining as a potent recipe for an audience trained to tune in to the minutiae of athletes’ lives. The media is catering to an audience that wants to feel a personal connection with athletes, some living vicariously through stars they’ve never met.
Maybe this level of scrutiny is just a truer manifestation of our reasons for following athletes’ lives in the first place. But maybe we should focus more on our own realities.
At this point it's up to us to decide what medium and depth of information is preferable. I, for one, don't care to know in which airport Will Hill is passing a bowel movement. And don’t expect to see The Carletonian quoting students’ tweets any time soon.
So next time you read "@SethJonker just won the big basketball game. time for a celebration i whip my hair back and forth lol,” think: should I care?